My first job in publishing was as a copywriter. My role was both simple and difficult: to write all the blurbs on the back of the publisher's books.

The job (if not the pay) was heavenly: each morning there'd be a pile of manuscripts waiting in the office for me to read: in the afternoon, I'd then try and distill the latest literary manuscript into just 300 words for a hardback, and 150 for a paperback (the two combined, for reference, is the precise length of this column).

It's one of those jobs that sounds easy in practice but hard to pull off in reality. As D. J. Taylor once said, 'Of all the minor literary arts, none is quite so delicate as the production of jacket copy.'

The blurb writer needs to reveal just enough about the story to entice the reader in, but not so much that you end up giving the plot away. When the book was brilliant, it was easy to gush praise: when it was less so, you had to choose your words more carefully.

My regular go-to term was 'absorbing', which might make the book sound unputdownable, but given you could use the same puff to praise a sponge, was my hint this novel was a bit of a damp squib.

Blurb writers rarely get their moment in the sun, but they've been blinking into the daylight this week following complaints from a number of book reviewers about how their words have been cut up and ended up on the book jacket.

The book in question was Beyond Order by controversial US thinker Jordan Peterson.

The back cover boasted praise from James Marriott in The Times, describing the book 'the most lucid and touching prose Peterson has written.'

Except that Marriott's original review had described one of the chapters as 'one of the most sensitive and lucid passages of prose' Peterson had written, which the the blurb writer had edited down to make the whole book sound brilliant.

In fact, Marriott had slated the book overall, describing it as 'repetitious, unvariegated, rhythmless, opaqueness and possessed of a suffocating sense of its own importance.'

I don't think I ever did anything quite as twisted as that, though I can empathise with the blurb writer reading a stash of bad reviews and struggling to find anything to put on the cover.

I remember writing a blurb for one book similarly slated the headline of one review simply read 'Trees died for this' but couldn't bring myself to repurpose that copy. I suspect I said the book was absorbing.

As George Eliot first wrote in The Mill on the Floss, don't judge a book by its cover!